Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mandatory FM

A story burning up the indignant media/tech blogs is an astroturf proposal to mandate (zomg evul gubmints!) FM receivers in many digital devices, including phones. Among the more common refrains are the ad-hominem (RIAA is evil so I am against anything they support) to the TeaBagger (the government shouldn't be issuing tech mandates (ummm, yes it should.))

To be clear, there are plenty of reasons to hate on RIAA (and the Fed Gov't for that matter), but those are so well-tread they don't bear repeating here.

I think this is a wonderful idea for a couple reasons:
  1. Generally speaking, devices that span networks are more useful,
  2. Scaled out, it would give FM a reason to compete with personal playlists. In turn...
  3. ...a revolution in FM broadcasting as a medium. DJ's can become very, very relevant again.
  4. ...which is great for listeners (and music fans) as they can build trust relationships (again) with filters
In its favor:
  • FM already has a MASSIVE installation base and infrastructure. The network is in-place - enabling a bazillion more devices to access this network is a no-brainer.
  • pressure to evolve the medium is a great thing for developing artists
  • great opportunity for local development of talent

Obstacles to overcome:
  • Legacy thinking about advertising, marketing, tracking, etc. The invasive ad-model will change (it will have to to compete with playlists), and something more passive will emerge (think BMW sponsoring a break-new-music show...)
  • It's current sponsors represent a de-facto Den of Thieves1 in the creative arts. They think they're in this for their own interests, but they're so obviously clueless from the onset chances are good this accelerates their demise2.
Summary: FM receivers embedded in media devices (phones) is really a smart, inexpensive, and potentially disruptive (in the good way) to the corporate stranglehold on FM. More listeners means more opportunity for niche talent and programming to develop, leading to (hopefully) the establishment of long-term acts and talent that provide economic longevity to their lives.

1 - I'm speaking to a popular conception as such, not making any direct accusation.
2- The rights-mgmt companies behind this obviously want to beef up royalty returns by getting some percentage of the bazillion media devices out there back into the FM listening situation. Station owners think they'll sell more ads. They're both wrong.

Note: re: AM vs FM. For those wondering why AM is not included, it has to do with the type of metal and shape required to receive AM broadcasts. Short story - that stuff is not compatible with modern equipment because it generates a field just to receive AM. FM antenna design, however, is easily integrated into just about every mobile design.

Followup: Great discussion over at Metafilter.